Changes to Scottish General Licences delayed until 1 April 2020

The anticipated changes to Scotland’s General Licences have been delayed until 1 April 2020, according to an announcement from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) yesterday.

General Licences are issued annually by the statutory conservation agencies and permit the ‘casual killing’ of an unlimited number of birds (crows, jackdaws, rooks and others), which may be killed under certain circumstances but without any monitoring or reporting requirements. It can be carnage (e.g. see here for a new report on the scale of the killing).

[General Licences permit the routine capture of crows in cage traps like this one. The crows will be beaten to death with a stick by the gamekeeper. Photo by Walter Baxter].

Last spring Wild Justice successfully challenged Natural England over the legality of the English General Licences which has led to subsequent reviews and revisions by statutory agencies in England, Wales and Scotland. These reviews are expected to result in significant changes to the General Licences in each country, such as a reduction in the number of species which may be killed and a tightening up of the circumstances in which they may be killed.

SNH undertook a public consultation and the revised Scottish General Licences were expected to be published on 1 January 2020. However, yesterday consultation respondents received the following email from SNH:

I am writing to you to provide a quick update on the General Licensing regime in Scotland for 2020. Our consultation closed on the 9th October and we received over 700 responses, so thank you for sharing your views on the importance of GLs and your experience of how they are currently working. As you are aware, the key areas we were seeking views on were primarily aiming to:

i. Help inform the evidence base and rationale for inclusion of certain species currently listed on GLs in Scotland.

ii. Help inform whether there are other satisfactory solutions available without recourse to management under licence.

We have been working hard to analyse the consultation responses, supplemented by additional intelligence gathered from a series of bilateral meetings we held with some of you during the consultation period. It is clear that GLs remain an important and useful mechanism to help regulate wildlife to manage conflicts with key areas of public interest.

In order for us to provide a licensing service which is enabling, proportionate and legally compliant, the challenge remains to balance species conservation with the wide range of other legitimate activities, interests and concerns from land management to public health and safety. As a result, and following feedback from our most recent analysis, we are proposing to make some changes to the species listings for most of 2020 and a number of additional modifications.

Due to the nature of these changes and the time required to help people understand and prepare they won’t come into effect until the 1st April 2020. This means we will be extending the existing GL’s in their current format until the 31st March. It is our intention to discuss these changes further with you early in the New Year and we will plan to have draft licences available to view and discuss prior to the changeover date.

In the meantime, if you have any queries please do get in touch with the Licensing Team.  General Licences for 1 January to 31 March 2020 will be published on our website by this Friday 20 December.

Kind Regards,


Robbie Kernahan | Head of Wildlife Management


It seems entirely sensible that SNH is planning to discuss the proposed changes early in the New Year, rather than publish them without warning at one minute after midnight on 1st April 2020 and then expect everyone to immediately understand and comply with the new rules. However, it’s also worth noting that this delay coincides with two months (Feb & March) where routine bird killing is especially prevalent. Hmmm. If SNH has reduced the number of species that may be killed under the General Licences we can probably expect a massive onslaught against those particular species in February and March, just as was seen in England when Natural England announced the imminent withdrawal of General Licences in April 2019.

It’ll be interesting to see just how significant the new licence changes are from SNH and of course, whether the new licences are lawful….

7 thoughts on “Changes to Scottish General Licences delayed until 1 April 2020”

  1. Thanks for this information. Although I made a submission to the Consultation and have been lobbying on the General Licence scheme for many years SNH has not bothered to let me know of the delay in publishing new Licences. Obviously they have not e-mailed all respondents to their Consultation.

    Perhaps they only e-mailed those who use these free for all licences to kill unlimited numbers of various species of native birds to artificially increase the number of non-native, intensively bred pheasants they release so that people who shoot them for fun can have more to kill?

    When SNH announced they were bringing forward this Consultation in response to the Wild Justice challenge to the equivalent General Licences on the other side of Hadrian’s Wall it was suggested by Government Ministers that the Consultation would at long last be looking at the validity and acceptability of such unregulated and unrecorded killing of wildlife in the 21st century. That hope was of course dashed when in the first few lines of the Consultation document SNH made it quite clear that the Consultation would not be dealing with the principal of the General Licence Scheme.

    I hope this delay has been caused by Government Ministers standing up to the civil servants at SNH who think they are employed to pander to the Victorian culling culture which still prevails on many “sporting” estates.

    Perhaps someone has realised that by encouraging ‘keepers and land “managers” to regard many species of birds as vermin to be wiped out it is very easy for those ‘keepers and managers to treat all birds, including protected raptors, as vermin to be killed on sight.

    SNH does seem to operate with little or no political control. When I exposed bad practise in the Islay Goose “Management” Scheme, SNH used BASC as independent experts to clear the SNH employed cullers of any wrong doing. Under an FOI appeal I eventually discovered that not only had BASC been critical of what the cullers were shown doing on our video, the SNH shooters had actually been BASC trained!

    If SNH do not announce major changes to, or better still the scrapping of, the General Licence Scheme it will be time for a Consultation and review of SNH itself.

  2. I’ve always fought the corner for all crow species, mainly because I’ve closely observed four of them (Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow), and from the early days of my enthusiasm for wildlife (57 years ago) I just couldn’t understand why farmers were so keen to shoot or crow-trap these charming birds. I had many conversations with farmers asking why, but all they could say was “Why shouldn’t I, they’re all vermin,” or “They’re threatening my livelihood.” Utter nonsense! I suspect they got these ideas from earlier generations. My own careful observations over many years indicated that although Carrion Crows and Magpies predated bird nests, their impact had no adverse effect on their prey species populations. Carrion Crows occasionally fed on moribund or more often dead lambs, but the idea that they would kill healthy lambs is as ridiculous as similar tall tales about Ravens. Lapwings were far more common in these early days, and although a percentage of nests were raided, we recorded no change in the population from year to year. Their current decline is a more recent phenomenon. The hunting and shooting brigade would have us believe that the loss of Lapwings is down to poor “vermin” control, but again that is nonsense; yet again agricultural changes are the main cause. On the other hand Carrion Crows have also declined due to persecution, and more recently Rooks and Jackdaws have significantly declined due to the poisoning of soils by the pesticide industry, with most farmers purchasing the chemicals which have wiped out invertebrate food for birds (and Badgers). Even winter Starling flocks have been decimated due to the shortage of leatherjackets and earthworms. Magpies have also vanished from some rural areas with the never-ending fad for farmers and gamekeepers “controlling” them. On the outskirts of Glasgow, there lives a woman nicknamed “the Magpie killer”, who is reputed to have killed around 200 of them in one year. She is alleged to kill them by trapping, then bashing their heads on her garden wall ! So come on SNH, get real and protect these species from even more needless persecution.

    1. Absolutely right, I’d love to hear how these people can explain how the rapid demise of the corncrake decades ago was the result of growing predator numbers when we still had good numbers of curlew and lapwing. It was a particular suite of agricultural changes that did for the corncrake, and now newer ones are hammering the surviving ground nesters. I’m seeing fields that I’ve known for thirty years being turned from relatively species and structurally diverse ones to looking as if they’ve been covered in plastic grass. When you see this up close it’s no great surprise that much of our wildlife is in decline, what is shocking is that this ‘improvement’ on marginal land is being paid for by public subsidy at a time when a third of our food gets chucked in the bin and we have a national obesity crisis. There are a set of vested interests in the countryside that want to keep the status quo and unfortunately it’s not just the huntin, fishin, shootin lot.

      1. Thanks Les. I’m reminded that farmers and recreational shooters are not the only groups responsible for various species’ decline. In the City of Glasgow, some body (possibly xxxxx xxxxx), contracted a company to “scare” a roosting flock of 8,000 Starlings from a railway bridge in the City Centre before the opening of the Glasgow Garden Festival. The incident took place in early spring, however the client who appointed the contractor clearly didn’t know that a week later the roost would depart and disperse to breeding sites! Unfortunately no prior warning was issued, and only a few late night revellers witnessed the appalling event. The contractors apparently used power hoses to knock the birds off the underside of the bridge, and one witness reported that hundreds, if not a thousand or more, dead and dying Starlings were carried away quickly by the River Clyde. Despite the illegality of this xxxxx [Ed: alleged incident], and the Council and two nature conservation organisations being informed, no further action seemed to have been taken.

        Sorry RPUK for straying from the raptor theme. I’ll try not to diverge in future, but there appear to be very few other ornithological blogs where to submit wider comments and opinions. At least my concerns were related to the General Licence debacle.

  3. “It is clear that GLs remain an important and useful mechanism to help regulate wildlife to manage conflicts with key areas of public interest.”

    Seems a very ominous and biased sentence?

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